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Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer  

Pleasantville’s Sahmir Jonees is the Press Male Athlete of the Year. June 26, 2019 (Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer)


Transportation
Will the Atlantic City Rail Line ever see improvements?

ATLANTIC CITY — Kathleen Jurimas takes the 5:47 a.m. train from Atlantic City to Philadelphia for work every morning. And since the Atlantic City Rail Line returned in May, she’s had to take the bus home.

The new train schedule would require her to wait too long, she said. It’s been a headache.

“The train is a lot faster because of the traffic, especially in the summertime,” said Jurimas, 56, of Margate. “The bus on Friday night took me ... I got on at 10 of 4 (p.m.), and I didn’t get home till 6:30 from Philadelphia.”

Years-long complaints about the Atlantic City Rail Line — that it’s underfunded and underappreciated — may have reached a crescendo during the September-May shutdown. Its reopening did little to quiet commuters’ grumblings, however, and calls for expanded service have grown louder since.

But after a meeting last week brokered by state Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, among NJ Transit’s executive director, other agency brass and prominent South Jersey stakeholders, some officials are starting to feel heard.

It’s about the city being given the chance to take full advantage of its location, proponents say. Some current commuters illustrate the possibility of Atlantic City as a bedroom community.

Atlantic City native Maria Huynh’s first day of work in Philadelphia was also the first day the line was back up and running. She rode the line to Philadelphia — as she has every weekday since — and has no plans of moving closer to her office.

“My family lives there, so it’s just nice,” said Huynh, 26, “and on the weekends, I can still go to the beach and stuff and it sort of feels like I live where people vacation, or (have a) summer home.”

In September, Jim Johnson, special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy and co-author of the state’s transition report on Atlantic City, voiced support for the rail line’s potential.

“The city and region could prosper if the train ride between Atlantic City and Philadelphia took less time and local commuters had a richer set of options,” Johnson wrote in a quarterly report. “Addressing the transit issue would make the city more attractive as a home for commuters and a much more likely option for customers seeking entertainment.”

The findings of a 2013 study commissioned by NJ Transit suggested the line’s ridership could double if run times between the cities were increased from 12 a day to 20. It languished, the agency unwilling to foot the additional costs.

In the chicken-or-the-egg debate over whether ridership numbers are paltry because the schedule is weak, or the other way around, NJ Transit has made its stance clear: The line to Philadelphia is a consistent underperformer. Between 2011 and 2017, ridership fell almost 28%.

But since the reopening, the number of commuters taking the line to Philadelphia from the resort is up. Numbers for one week in June showed a 15% increase in riders between the cities over a comparable week from last year.

NJ Transit ridership June 2018-2019

Local officials and stakeholders, including Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr., Casino Reinvestment Development Authority Executive Director Matt Doherty and Brown, met with Executive Director Kevin Corbett and other NJ Transit officials last week in Atlantic City to discuss the possibility of expanding service on the line. Multiple attendees of the meeting said NJ Transit was receptive to the idea, more so than in the past.

“It certainly seemed different to me. The attitude was very positive, very receptive, very candid,” said Amy Gatto, chairwoman of the Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

By mid-July, stakeholders will turn in goals to be accomplished within a year, in one to three years and in three to five years, Brown said.

Brown said one short-term goal is getting extra cars for special events in the resort. Getting more trains would require “four years’ lead time,” he said.

“Finally, we’re having a dialogue and people are talking with one another,” Brown said.

The agency is $135 million in debt, said Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland. Sweeney has proposed $75 million in extra funding for NJ Transit for the next fiscal year, compared with a $25 million increase floated by Gov. Phil Murphy. The state budget for 2020 is expected to be signed into law this weekend.

Sweeney said in an editorial board meeting with The Press of Atlantic City that trains won’t give the state a direct return on investment. The benefits of a robust train line come indirectly.

“The only way you’re going to get reliable transportation is to fund it properly,” Sweeney said. “You don’t make money on mass transportation. Just like in government you don’t make money on parks. But there are certain roles that the government has, and that train really could be one hell of a benefit to this region.”

The idea of making the area around the Atlantic City Rail Terminal a “Transit Village” has been floated over the past few years. The designation, of which there are 33 in the state, would make Atlantic City eligible for funds to develop near the station and make it an attractive living option for commuters.

It may take a strong advertising push on the opposite end of the line. A few years ago, Jersey City launched a marketing campaign targeting the outer boroughs of New York City to “educate people on all the great things that are happening in Jersey City.”

“That’s helped; there’s no question,” said Mayor Steven Fulop. “We’ve seen astronomical growth. And in the next census, we’ll be bigger than Newark. We’ll be the largest city in the state.”

Before the same can happen in Atlantic City, commuters need to know there’s a reliable way to get to work.

“A lot of people I took the train with now are driving or using other options,” Jurimas said, “because it’s not working.”

People are talking about how to reinvent Atlantic City. Join the conversation here.


Local
Thousands turn out for music, community at Warped Tour in Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — Standing ankle-deep in the ocean Saturday afternoon, Lauren Knapik looked up and down the beach and reminisced about the experiences she’s had at the Vans Warped Tour over the past decade.

“I grew up on it,” said Knapik, 26, of Cleveland. “It’s the community. When I think of summer, I think of Warped Tour.”

Knapik, who drove more than seven hours from Ohio to attend the two-day festival, has been attending the tour since she was 13, she said. The thought that this year, its 25th anniversary, would be its last — “so they say,” she quipped — made the drive worth it.

Were you SEEN at Warped Tour Day 1?

Nearly 30,000 people per day were expected to gather on the beach and Boardwalk on Saturday and Sunday for the punk rock festival, which also features a museum of memorabilia and art from the tour’s history, a human cannonball and dirt bikes on a half-pipe.

Concertgoers cooled off in the ocean Saturday afternoon as temperatures exceeded 90 degrees during the fourth day of a South Jersey heat wave.

“The breeze is beautiful, and the water is good,” Knapik said. “But the sand is hard to walk on.”

The weather turned about 5:30 p.m., however, as storm clouds rolled in and authorities evacuated the beach for what at the time was an hour delay.

At the time, the band Atmosphere was playing on the main stage but stopped and said they were taking a one-hour break and would return.

“I’m kinda bummed that it’s happening right now, but I’m coming back tomorrow,” Chris Deiturrondo, 30, of Morris County, said of the evacuation.

Prior to that, the crowd spanned farther and wider than Pink’s beach concert two years ago, which drew an estimated 50,000 people. Unlike some past beach concerts, the ocean was accessible to concertgoers, who took full advantage of the opportunity to cool off between sets and throughout the day.

But before the two-day show kicked off that afternoon, Warped Tour pro skaters got to know the skating culture in Atlantic City at the Sovereign Avenue skate park, which reopened in the spring.

Skate Atlantic City co-founder Zach Katzen said the pro skateboarders put on a demonstration and gave out T-shirts, sneakers and other merchandise to local skaters.

“We’re really excited to have them at our brand new park to actually christen it,” said Katzen. “Made a lot of kids’ month, week, year probably.”

PHOTOS of Warped Tour skate team's visit to Atlantic City skate park

Jeremiah Watson, 18, of Atlantic City, snapped his board while doing some tricks with the pros, but kept skating.

“Today we’re just having a blast, like a skate jam basically,” Watson said.

For Chino Adams, 42, and Dominic DeMario, 42, both of Atlantic City, having the professionals from Vans come and see the local skate park was “huge.”

“Me and this guy have been skating A.C. since 1980-something. … And for us to see an actual skate park be built here and see the actual pros that we looked up to show love, it’s huge for us,” Adams said.

At Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall, New Jersey’s own Shira, of Bergen County, did some interviews before playing the Full Sail stage Saturday afternoon. She said it was good to be back home for the anniversary tour, especially as she lived in Margate briefly.

“Total homecoming, so happy to be here on the beach. What better setting can you have for a summer music festival?” Shira said. “This Jersey Girl is very happy.”

Known for running her all-female Shiragirl stage at the Warped Tour for several years since the early 2000s, she has hosted more than 300 female-fronted musical acts, including Joan Jett and Paramore.

On the beach, Tyler Fairclough and Ashley Mori enjoyed a drink between sets by 1990s ska bands Save Ferris and Less Than Jake. For the couple, who have been to a half dozen of the festivals in the past four years, the Warped Tour is all about the community, and the music.

“It’s the only time of the year when everyone from the scene comes together,” said Fairclough, 23. “It’s the mutual love of music that most people around you don’t love.”

While they were enjoying the sun and the music Saturday, they were looking forward to Sunday, when Trophy Eyes was set to take the stage.

Sunday also will feature music by Anti-Flag, Atreyu, blink-182, Bowling for Soup, Circa Survive and others.

“It’s always a good time,” Knapik said. “No matter who you are, you’re going to have a great experience. And if you missed it — that sucks.”


Craig Matthews / Staff Photo 

Maria Huynh, 26, of Atlantic City, takes the Atlantic City Rail Line to work in Philadelphia. ‘On the weekends I can still go to the beach and stuff and it sort of feels like I live where people vacation,’ Huynh said.


PROVIDED  

Former Eagles long snapper Jon Dorenbos, a professional magician, is lending his talents to an Aug. 16 fundraiser at the Milton & Betty Katz JCC in Margate.


Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer  

Oakcrest’s Brielle Smith is The Press Female Athlete of the Year. June 20, 2019 (Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer)


State
Tax relief may be coming for shore rental property owners, but is it too late?

Tax relief may be coming for property owners who privately rent out their homes for short periods of time — a common practice at the Jersey Shore — but it’s coming too late to avoid complicating this season’s rentals.

A bill passed by the Legislature this past week exempts those who do not use online services such as Airbnb from a 2018 law that extended New Jersey’s 6.625% sales and use tax and its 5% hotel and motel occupancy fee to private rentals of less than 90 days.

But property owners who use word of mouth or classified ads to rent their homes have already had to negotiate this year’s rent with the tax included, unless they used a real estate agency to handle the deal.

“The cautious property owners who had enough skin in the game — enough money in the game — would say, ‘We don’t want to pay a Realtor and don’t want to take a risk, so I’m going to register and collect the tax,’” said Florham Park state tax practitioner and certified public accountant Alan Preis.

“If there was already a June tenant, the tax presumably was collected,” Preis said.

Gov. Phil Murphy has 45 days to sign or veto the legislation, or it automatically becomes law. If he takes all that time, the rental season will be just about over, Preis said.

Earlier this year, a group of shore area homeowners started a group that sought to repeal the tax.

The tax was part of a series of state and local taxes that can range from 12% to 14% on top of what people already paid to rent a Jersey Shore home for a vacation.

The transient accommodations taxes apply to bookings made through either online travel companies such as Airbnb and VRBO — vacation rental by owner — or directly with individual homeowners.

The law was passed to ostensibly level the playing field between hotels and Airbnb rentals, but individuals who rent their homes out at the shore to vacationers were included.

The taxes do not apply if the booking is made through a licensed real estate professional.

Sponsors of the amending legislation included Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, both D-Atlantic; and Bruce Land and Matt Milam, both D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic.

Murphy does not talk about whether he will sign legislation, and Mazzeo said he hasn’t heard whether Murphy is leaning toward signing it.

“I really don’t know if the governor will sign it or not because it is a tax for the state,” said Mazzeo. But he said the intent of the Legislature when it passed the original legislation in 2018 was to even out the playing field among hotels, motels and online rental services.

The intention was not to tax people who rented their properties on their own without such an online marketplace, Mazzeo said.

“The bigger pot of money is through the Airbnb rentals,” said Mazzeo.

According to a fiscal analysis by the state Office of Legislative Services, Airbnb has estimated 8,100 active hosts in New Jersey earn about $7,300 each in extra income per year.

“Based on these factors, annual earnings for all New Jersey hosts would be roughly $59.1 million on an annual basis,” according to OLS. “Had these transient accommodations been taxable, combined revenue from the state sales and use tax and the state hotel and motel occupancy fee would have yielded approximately $6.9 million.”